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LA, the Gays, Butterflies and My Father

"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, June 2006

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I recently went down to LA for a Best Gay Erotica reading. I was this year's judge, and in my introduction at the reading I declared a not-quite-so-hidden agenda. First of all, I stated, I would like to destroy erotica. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, "erotica" generally means stereotyped, overwrought, simplistic writing about sex that feels more like shopping for just the right brand of -- windshield wiper fluid -- than exploring the outermost reaches of desire. In the case of writing by and for so-called gay men, erotica comes with the assumption that unquestioning masculinity take its place in the preeminent space in the pantheon of the gods. Now, not only am I interested in dragging masculinity down where we can challenge, transform -- and, sure -- touch it, but I'm also interested in sex writing that's a little more open, honest, desperate, fucked up, messy and dangerous.

Furthermore, of course, I declared that I want to destroy "gay." Now, what do I mean by that? Well, gay has come to mean pick me up at the Pottery Barn in the brand-new Victory Red Hummer H3, so we can all-terrain it over to see Brokeback Mountain for the sixteenth time before the Oscars and shed a few tears in the dark, then hit a few pedestrians on the way to gulp down several Sex on the Dryers -- but not too many, hubbie -- because we've gotta get up in the morning and go to work at Community Marketing. Now, I'm interested in something that's a little more deviant, defiant, delicious and... devastating.

The reading in LA was a double feature with The Wild Creatures, collected stories of Sam D'Allesandro edited posthumously by Kevin Killian. I chose stories by both Sam and Kevin for Best Gay Erotica, and it was exciting to combine the two books for the event because Sam D'Allesandro was one of many queer writers who I discovered in the early '90s either shortly before or shortly after their deaths due to AIDS (Sam died in 1988). Although Sam died before I could meet him, his work -- and the work of other queer writers, activists and artists who died around the same time, people like Bo Huston, Marlon Riggs, David Feinberg, Derek Jarman, Cookie Mueller and especially David Wojnarowicz (who comes the closest to an icon for me), helped me to feel that maybe I could create a little bit of hope in a world of loss. Reading from Sam's work, I realized that he died when he was 33. I'm 32 now.

The reading was especially successful, fun and moving because it was both sexy and serious, polished and provocative. Afterwards, someone asked me if I ever got tired of touring, and I think I answered by saying that readings gave me energy, which is kind of true except that beforehand I'm always completely exhausted, wondering how I can possibly make it happen. Then afterwards I feel high, until I crash and then I have to figure out how to face the world again.

You see, I have all this crazy chronic pain and chronic exhaustion, lately grouped under the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, which basically means pain all over your body and an inability to get restful sleep. For me, it has a lot to do with being sexually abused by my father as a kid, I stored all my father's rage in my body and I've yet to figure out how to purge myself. Plus, I never learned how to relax while sleeping, since I was always waiting for my father to drag me out of bed to rape me.

All of the pain and exhaustion make it especially complicated to tour, since it's hard for me to carry anything really, and I have to eat all the time because I'm vegan and hypoglycemic, and I need somewhere comfortable and quiet to sleep... But then the reading starts, and I'm filled with so much calm thrilling drive. I kind of need that high to keep going. It's how I do anything in my life, really -- I live entirely on will, if I lost that then I'd lose everything.

I stayed with my sister in LA. She lives in West Hollywood, outside her apartment I watched these tiny squirrels scurry at a 90-degree angle up to the top of these enormous palm trees -- looking for food, I imagine -- and then they scurried right back down. It was pretty amazing, birds were chirping too -- I don't know how all these creatures stay alive with all the pollution. Then I found the cruising, which was at some random residential intersection on La Jolla a few blocks below Santa Monica Boulevard, cars driving around in circles. I had sex with some guy in his car, afterwards the windows were fogged and then he said he lived in Orange County because there were too many gay people in West Hollywood. Unfortunately, he wasn't critiquing the tragedy of rabid gay consumerism, he just looked disgusted and trapped and desperate and ashamed and I asked him for a ride back to my sister's house anyway. Even a few blocks in LA is a long walk.

My sister's apartment is long and spacious -- you can be at one end, and not even know that someone else is at the other. It was pretty relaxing to stay there and not worry about much except cooking and going out to dinner with my sister. I was only there for a few days, but by the end of my visit I got scared of returning home. In LA, except for the reading I didn't have to think so much about everything I want to do and how to make it happen. Like how to get the writing and the politics that are important to me out in the world, how to make a living from writing (ha!), how to face the horrible progression the world is taking. I thought about Sam D'Allesandro, how if I was him I would be dead just about now.

Even though sometimes when my father was raping me and I could feel my body split in half, I thought I was dead, could float away through the chimney like a butterfly -- later, I still didn't want to die. I mean, not until I was ready -- I can't imagine being ready.

My father has cancer now, it's what they call terminal, he probably won't live for more than a few years. My sister and I didn't really talk about it much in LA. It's hard to -- she's never dealt with the abuse. I mean, she doesn't think it happened to her, though she was certainly in the same house. She still talks to my father, our father -- he's still her father, not really mine. I haven't talked to him in 10 years, since I confronted him and told him we couldn't speak unless he could admit to sexually abusing me. Now he's dying -- I know that some people, when they realize they're dying they change things in their lives or make incredible art or go through some sort of transformation, but I don't think that will happen with my father. He's had every possible means for dealing with sexually abusing me -- he's a psychiatrist -- and he's chosen to deny everything.

So it was hard, staying at my sister's house with this ghost that will be our father who we both can see but not really.

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